Over the weekend, the Army Corp of Engineers denied an easement permit that will prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being routed near the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corp said they will work with developers to reroute the pipeline, but developers vow they hope to finish the pipeline without having to reroute it. Over the last year, developers and protestors have collided over the safety of the pipeline and the possible danger it possesses for the environment and residents. Developers argue they have a legal right to continue the project, while the Sioux argue they are frightened of its possible dangers. They point to recent pipeline breaks across the country as examples of these dangerous possibilities.
This current conflict between developers and indigenous people is nothing new. From the moment Europeans set foot on the soil of North America, western developers have coveted the natural resources of this land. Claiming the divine rights of kings, later evolving into the divine rights of white men, American lands were conquered, its inhabitants killed or resettled, and western expansionism became part of the American psyche. From those first years to now, there has always been a sacredness to this struggle. Where does one person’s rights begin and another’s end? What are the larger priorities of humanity, progress or preservation? What is more important, making life better or making certain we maintain life? These are the sacred struggles of humanity, and possibly, at the heart of what has taken place at Standing Rock.
When the Prophet Jeremiah delivered an admonition against the leaders and people of Judah, he described their rebellion as a rejection of God’s fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). Modern day readers are left to wonder why he used such an illustration? For an ancient people whose sacred story was about finding salvation by the Red Sea, wandering in a wilderness for decades, and needing clean water for survival, Jeremiah’s metaphor was more than a mere image…it was God’s gift of life to the Hebrews.
Centuries later, the Prophet Zechariah offered these encouraging words to a conquered people, “On that day (of the Lord) living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” (14:8). When John the Evangelist introduced Jesus in his Gospel, he did so with an encounter between the rabbi and a Samaritan woman at a well. Their topic for discussion, living water (4:10-11). Jesus asked her for a drink. She obliged, but noticed he had no cup from which to drink and how odd it was for a Jewish male to speak to a Samaritan woman. His response comforted her, and comforts the world today, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:13-14)
Chief Joseph, 19th Century leader of the Wallowa tribe in the Pacific Northwest, once said, “I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more.” When the people of God open their hearts and minds to His ways, then we discover a sacredness to life. We discover that water is sometimes more than a refreshing drink. Water means life. Living water means salvation. The reason the events at Standing Rock are so important is not because a tribe stood up to a large oil corporation, but that they stood up for life. They stood up for God’s creation. They stood up for the sacredness in which God breathed into the world.
In closing, we need to seriously consider our responsibility as God’s caretakers in this world. I truly believe the oil company and their employees are not evil people, but individuals and families attempting to carve out a living and provide for a demand in the world. Therefore, my prayers and hope for Standing Rock continue to be that all involved can discover another way to achieve both progress and preservation. To find this way, we will need to open our minds to new possibilities. We will need to see each other as collaborators and not enemies. We will need to acknowledge the land is given to us by God, thus we have a sacred responsibility to care for her. We can find another way, but we must open our hearts to each other and fill our souls with Living Water.